There’s no shortage of tasty meals to be had in our nation’s capital. A decidedly international city with international cuisines to show for it, Washington, D.C. has a food scene that’s as diverse as it is delicious. As a neighborhood-driven city, a range of communities across the District have long been vying for the title of “Best Eating.” It’s a competition that residents and visitors alike are only too happy to judge and results in a whole lot of winning (and chowing down).
One of the most dependable neighborhoods for scrumptious food from a wide range of cultures comes from Capitol Hill, an expansive neighborhood that not only includes the area immediately adjacent to the Capitol building but also areas like Eastern Market and Barracks Row that boast true destination dining. Here are just a few of our favorites in the area.
Rose’s Luxury and its associated sister restaurants (Little Pearl and Pineapple and Pearls) are the best kind of empire – the epicurean empire. For years, Capitol Hill residents have been fawning over the Michelin-recommended star of the neighborhood (with a name to match). While the restaurant is decidedly French fine-dining inspired, it manages to offer a $95 prix-fixe meal without being the slightest bit pretentious. Perhaps it’s the converted townhouse vibe (the second story is a bar), or the eclectic menu, but somehow, Rose’s Luxury always makes diners feel right at home. The menu is constantly changing, as it leverages seasonally available ingredients, so diners can always expect creative twists on traditional favorites, like a lychee salad with pork (or vegetarian sausage), habanero peppers, and peanuts, or a 50-layer white lasagna with black truffles. Best of all, Rose’s Luxury offers the same menu completely to-go, allowing you to enjoy fine dining from the comfort of your own home.
There’s no shortage of excellent Mexican food to be had in D.C., and newcomer Paraiso is well worth a mention. With a chef who hails from Guerrero but is unafraid to use influences from around the world (how often do you find a Thai curry mussel dish in a Mexican joint?), Paraiso is a whimsical restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Be that as it may, the kitchen team is whipping up some seriously good tacos on technicolor homemade masa tortillas dyed with natural ingredients like beets and spinach. You’ll find traditional favorites like beef tongue and a seriously melt-in-your-mouth al pastor, and some more American-influenced options like the battered cod. The vegetarian taco is a surprising winner, with well-marinated eggplant turning even the most devoted carnivores into plant-eaters. And don’t skimp on the cocktails, like the mezcal old fashioned.
Every neighborhood needs a great neighborhood wine bar, and The Eastern is the answer to Capitol Hill’s cry. With an expansive yet approachable wine list that’s organized in plain English, with prompts like, “If you like a Chilled Red,” The Eastern is the perfect place for wine connoisseurs and beginners alike. You’ll find unique wines (like those from Lebanese vineyards) alongside ones that you thought had gone out of vogue (like Lambrusco), all on a rotating basis to keep even the most regular customers guessing. And while most wine bars aren’t readily known for their food, that’s certainly not the case for The Eastern. The lamb – both in skewered and slow-cooked form – is not to miss, and equally as delightful is the seared scallops.
Belgium, meet D.C. From moules frites to Belgian waffles, there’s something for every Western Europe lover at this charming cafe. As one of the first restaurants in the Barracks Row area of Capitol Hill, Belga Cafe made a name for itself among the many regulars that are still coming to this restaurant for its expansive Belgian beer list and beloved brunch. Don’t miss out on their take on green eggs and ham, made sophisticated with herb pesto, spinach, Gruyère cheese, and bacon, or their Belgian french toast, which does the impossible by combining a brioche waffle with French toast batter, apricot sauce, roasted almonds, and honey. When it’s warm outside, the rooftop bar (named Betsy) opens up for plenty of gin-fueled fun.
Proving that good food doesn’t have to come with a hard to swallow price tag is the unassuming restaurant located inside the historic Eastern Market – Market Lunch. Dishing up enormous breakfasts and lunch platters to-go, this Capitol Hill classic is known best for its pancakes, which are $7.95 for a full-stack (three pancakes) or $6.25 for a short stack (two pancakes). And pro-tip: just go for the full stack. The most famous of the options is undoubtedly the blueberry buckwheat, and those with a particular sweet tooth will delight in the buckwheat chocolate chip. For lunch, get the crab cakes, which come with two sides and fresh bread. There’s a reason this restaurant has been going strong since 1978, and not even a global pandemic has been able to put a dent in the spirit behind this neighborhood favorite.
Fast-casual doesn’t have to be relegated to greasy burgers and greasier fries, and here to prove that case is Chiko, a Chinese and Korean-inspired restaurant perfect for take-out or delivery. While the restaurant is undoubtedly Asian-influenced, it’s not bound by the confines of the continent. Here, you’ll find dishes like wok-fired green beans (both a Chinese and Korean favorite) next to Bulgogi tater tots (a bit further removed from the traditional). The confit duck fried rice is not to be missed, nor is the northern China inspired cumin lamb stir fry with wheat flour noodles. And if you’re into dessert (who isn’t?), check out the Chiko Pops – chocolate-coated peanut butter pops with coconut, sesame, and sea salt.
There is a wide range of delightful bagel purveyors in D.C. (see: Bullfrog Bagels, Call Your Mother, and Pearl’s Bagels), but Buffalo & Bergen differentiates itself in three ways: first, the brunch cocktails (which yes, you can get delivered); second, the knishes (because who can resist mashed potatoes wrapped in pastry?); and third, the out of this world sandwiches. “The Bandito” is a perennial favorite – it comes with carnitas-esque pulled pork, pickled peppers, avocado, and manchego cheese. Oh, and don’t miss out on the latkes, especially during the High Holidays.
Be prepared to be transported to Paris when you visit Bistro Cacao. Not only is the wine list true to its French roots (you’ll find Chateauneuf du Pape reds and a range of Sancerre whites), but so too is the food – rich, hearty, and unpretentious. Sure, you’ll be able to order escargot (which are served in their traditional shallow dishes but without the shells), but you can also grab a D.C.-style crab hash, which combines fried potatoes, smoked salmon, crab meat, and perfectly poached eggs underneath a rich hollandaise sauce. The french fries are shoestring in style – perfect for the crisp potato lover, and the chocolate souffle is worth the wait.
You won’t find many restaurants with outposts in Serbia and D.C., but then again, you won’t find many restaurants like Ambar either. A Michelin Bib Gourmand honoree, Ambar is one of the few Balkan restaurants in the area, and one of the most delicious. With bottomless brunch that offers unlimited food and drink, as well as Serbian bar favorites like rakia, you’ll be able to get an authentic experience that satisfies both your stomach and your wallet at Ambar.